By Peter Galvin
Shelby Lynne has fascinated fans with her singular style and attitude since the early ’90s. That’s when she first burst onto the music scene as the duet partner of none other than George Jones. Fearlessly tackling multiple genres over the years, Lynne is known as one of today’s few musical renegades, a singer who answers solely to her own inner muse.
On Jan. 29, Lost Highway Records will release the Grammy-winning artist’s “Just a Little Lovin’.” An homage to legendary queer vocalist Dusty Springfield, the album shows off Lynne’s remarkable ability to honor one of her musical idols while at the same time making each song her own.
“Dusty Springfield was a soulful singer,” says Lynne, who won the Grammy for Best New Artist in 2001 after the release of her landmark album, “I Am Shelby Lynne.” “You can’t ever fill Dusty’s shoes. So I just set out to sing songs we all want to hear again.”
Here, Lynne talks about her appreciation for Springfield’s music, taking some good advice from her friend Barry Manilow, and her distaste for labels. Especially that gay one!
How did the idea for this album come about?
It was a suggestion from my friend Barry Manilow. He asked me if I’ve ever thought of doing the Dusty thing. I hadn’t. It took me about a year to decide to finally do it. I let the idea sit for a while before I could really wrap my head around it.
Were you a fan of Dusty’s music?
Yeah, I was definitely a fan. I first discovered the “Dusty in Memphis” album years ago. After I decided to do the record, I did a lot of research, which made me love her even more. I watched old tapes and videos to get a better sense of her. I love the voice, the spirit – she’s the epitome of what a singer should be, so honest and dramatic. And when she moved onstage, she had these really long arms and big hands, which made her seem even more larger-than-life.
You’ve become a celebrated songwriter in your own right. How did it feel to sing someone else’s songs rather than your own?
Cover records can really be suicide if you don’t do it right. The record is ultimately about reminding people how great these songs are, instead of being ‘Shelby does Dusty.’
Well, those records, particularly ‘Dusty in Memphis,’ are truly iconic. I would think you would want to stay away from messing with that formula.
Yeah, there was such a trend at that time, not just on Dusty’s records – you had these huge vocals, and the rhythm section, the strings, and the horns were all turned up to 11. It would be silly to try to do that again. We have some amazing musicians on this record, but when we all went into the studio, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When we got on a roll, it was clear that this record was going to be really laid-back.
Do you have a favorite song?
You know, I love the whole damn record. It’s has a very fluid sound, and there’s a common thread that runs through it – me. I really love Randy Newman’s ‘I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore.’ That song kills me. It’s one of those great story songs. As a singer, you just love singing those beautiful, painful love songs.
You’ve sung many different styles of music in your career – country, swing, rock, pop. I think people find you hard to categorize. That’s probably a good thing for an artist, right?
It makes it easy to do what I want to do. I’m just doing what I feel and what I need to do musically. I’ve spent a lot of years getting my ass on the map. At this point, I’m kind of known for that. I don’t have to try so hard to prove that I’m different. I can do the big ‘Phew!’
I know that ‘I Am Shelby Lynne’ had a lot of fans in the gay community. Are you conscious of having gay fans?
Yeah. I hope that every artist is lucky enough to have gay fans, if that’s even what they should be called.
What would you call them?
Just fans. I think any kind of label is kind of a cheap shot. It’s kind of disgusting. It’s just not the way things ought to be. What is gay anyway? The desire to be with one sex? Or being with all sexes? People can call themselves what they want, but people shouldn’t be labeling other people.
And what do you think about gay people getting married?
Well, I think that’s more of a political thing. I don’t think politics and music mix. But people should be able to love who they want.
Has anyone ever tried to label you?
Yeah, but I’m free to do what I want with whoever I want to. Honey, I’ve done it all – I go where the love is. That’s not any kind of news. I’ve never hidden anything. No need to read between the lines. Love comes in all kinds of flavors, doesn’t it?